Originally created 08/20/05

Tiger tumbles into a share of the lead



AKRON, Ohio - Tiger Woods felt he played well enough to score in the mid-60s on Friday and take a comfortable lead into the weekend at the NEC Invitational. One hole changed everything but his outlook.

His 8-iron caromed off a tree and 20 yards to the right. From there, a 7-iron bounded through the green and into deep rough. When he had finished chopping up the 18th hole, Woods shot an even-par 70 that dropped him into a share of the lead with Luke Donald and invited a host of others into the tournament.

Donald made three straight birdies early in his round and shot 67, joining Woods at 4-under 136.

"I didn't shoot myself out of the tournament by making double, and that's a good thing," Woods said. "We've got a long way to go and I'm playing well, so I just need to keep doing what I'm doing."

Woods wasn't alone in his late-round misery.

Vijay Singh was tied for the lead at 5 under until he dumped his third shot into the water on the 667-yard 16th hole and had to chip in with a fairway metal for a bogey. He spun his approach off the 17th green and failed to save par from 10 feet, and he nearly made it three straight bogeys until he escaped with a pitch to 4 feet on the last hole.

He shot 71 and was at 3-under 137.

Henrik Stenson of Sweden was at 5 under until he found the left rough on the 18th hole, took two shots to advance the ball to the front of the green and also took double bogey for a 71 that put him one shot behind the leaders.

Also at 137 were PGA runner-up Thomas Bjorn, Paul McGinley and Chris DiMarco, who avoided such calamity. Bjorn played bogey-free for a 67, while McGinley had a 66 to match the low score on a day of blustery, deceptive conditions.

DiMarco kept it simple - very simple - with 18 pars.

"Any time you don't make any bogeys around this place, that's a good thing," DiMarco said. "Usually when you don't make any birdies, that's not a good thing. But I'm OK."

PGA champion Phil Mickelson had a 72 and was at 141, among 22 players within five shots of the lead.

Woods was playing so solidly, it looked as though he might not make any bogeys the entire tournament. His driving was immaculate for most of the round, and par was often the worst he could do.

He finally dropped a shot on the 14th hole when his tee shot just hopped into the deep grass, but he got it back with a 5-iron into 10 feet for birdie. He steered clear of trouble on the 16th hole - which served up five double bogeys, a triple bogey and a quadruple-bogey nine by Chris Riley - then saved par from 10 feet on the 17th.

And then came trouble.

His tee shot went into the trees to the right, but Woods saw what he thought was plenty of room to run an 8-iron up the fairway toward the green.

"It was an easy shot, like shooting a pea into the ocean," he said.

The ocean turned into a puddle when his ball struck a tree and went further right. From behind the green, he hit a poor chip to 20 feet and left the bogey putt short, as he did several putts during the round.

But he still had a share of the lead, and felt in control on a Firestone course where he has won three times.

"It's easier to come back and to go forward," Woods said. "A bunch of guys are right there, so I've got to play solidly, and this time do it for 18 holes."

Donald, a medium-length hitter who seems to thrive on big courses, started his round on the back nine and quickly put himself into the mix with three straight birdies, starting with a 25-foot putt on the 13th hole. He hit 6-iron into 6 feet on the 14th, then a 5-iron into 5 feet on the par-3 15th.

"I like firm and fast," he said of the conditions. "I think that's when this golf course kind of suits my game. You really have to control your irons shots into the green, and when the greens get softer, anyone can shoot at the pins."

Donald has only won once on the PGA Tour, at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic three years ago. He was poised to win at Torrey Pines and The Players Championship before struggling on the closing holes.

And playing with Woods is no big deal - the Englishman has done that twice in the majors already.

"The atmosphere and the energy that he brings with him, with the crowd and stuff, I thrive off that," Donald said.

McGinley never imagined being so close to the lead, not after he was 4 over par with four holes to play Thursday. He followed with three straight birdies for a 71, then birdied four of his first seven holes on his way to a 66.

"I knew it was four days, there was no cut this week, and I knew the way the course was playing, the scores would come back a little bit," McGinley said. "Anything around par was a good score."

Singh declined interviews for the second straight day, speaking only to network television.

Justin Leonard also shot 66 and was in a large group at 2-under 138 that included David Toms (67), Sergio Garcia (70), Stuart Appleby (70) and David Howell of England (68).